Maharshi Dr. Dhondo Keshav Karve (April 18, 1858 – November 9, 1962) was an eminent social reformer of his time in India in the field of welfare of womankind. Maharshi Karve was one of the pioneers in India in breaking with extraordinary fortitude and perseverance the harsh social mores against womankind. He promoted education of women and initiated the movement for giving freedom to widows for remarrying, if they wished to do so. The Government of India recognized his reform work by awarding him the Padma Vibhushan in 1955 and the highest civilian award, Bhārat Ratna in 1958.
Works of Pandita Ramabai inspired Karve to dedicate his life to the cause of female education, and the work of Pandit Vishnushāstri and Pandit Iswar Chandra Vidyāsāgar inspired him to work for uplifting the status of widows. Writings of Herbert Spencer had also highly influenced him.
Karve founded Widhawā-Wiwāhottejak Mandali in 1893, which, besides encouraging marriages of widows, also helped the needy children of widows. In 1895, the institution was renamed as Widhawā-Wiwāha-Pratibandh-Niwārak Mandali – Society to remove obstacles to marriages of widows. In 1896, Karve established a Hindu Widows’ Home Association and Mahilāshram, a shelter and a school for women, including widows in Hingane, a village then in the outskirts of Pune, Maharashtra. He started Mahilā Vidyālaya in 1907; the following year, he started Nishkām Karma Math – Social Service Society to train workers for the Widows Home and the Mahila Vidyalaya.
When Karve had started his shelter and school for women, including widows, in 1896, he had to start it in the remote village of Hingane, outside the city of Pune because the dominant orthodox Brahmin community in the city had ostracized him for his reformatory activities.
Maharshi Karve stree Shikshan Samstha, – more than century old samstha was established in 1896 by the great visionary and social worker Bharat Ratna Maharshi Dhondo Keshav Karve, to provide shelter to destitute women.
After reading information about Japan’s Women’s University in Tokyo, Karve was inspired to establish in 1916 in Pune, the first university for women in India, with just five students. The curriculum was tailored to the aptitudes of women. During 1917-1918, Karve established a training college for primary school teachers and another school for girls, named Kanyā Shālā. In 1920, an industrialist and philanthropist from Mumbai, Sir Vithaldās Thāckersey, donated Karve’s university 1.5 million Indian rupees – a substantial sum in those days – and the university was then renamed as Shreemati Nāthibāi Dāmodar Thāckersey Indian Women’s University – SNDT Women’s University. The SNDT University and other educational institutions for women started by Karve In 1931; currently cover the spectrum ranging from pre-primary schools to colleges in humanities, sciences, engineering, architecture, and business management.
In 1936, Karve started the Maharashtra Village Primary Education Society with the goal of opening primary schools in villages, which had no schools run by the District Local Boards. He also encouraged maintenance of reading habits of adults in villages. In 1944, he founded the Samatā Sangh for the promotion of human equality. Besides dedicating his life to the emancipation of women in India, Karve stood for the abolition of the caste system and the curse of untouchability in Hindu society.
Karve wrote two autobiographical works: Ātmawrutta (1928) in Marathi, and Looking Back (1936) in English. He ended the latter with the words: Here ends the story of my life.